Telco 2.0 News Review

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[Ed: There's a major session on 'Living with Google - Where to collaborate, where to compete?' at the 9th Telco 2.0 Executive Brainstorm, 28-29th April, London]

ABI closes the books on 2009 and concludes that despite the global recession, mobile CAPEX held up well, if you count a 5% dip as "well"; key drivers of this included 243,000 base stations for China, Huawei's lavish vendor financing, and Verizon Wireless' LTE supercontract.

Telenor, in its role as Pakistan's second biggest operator, reckons that we're heading into the emerging-markets shakeout - they think Pakistan just has too many GSM networks, perhaps because of all that lovely vendor financing. Well, in a sense, they would say that, but it certainly fits with our experience at TelecomFinance. Also, when we included "Buy a bank - they're going cheap" as an option in the Mobile Money vote at the last Telco 2.0 event, it was meant to be a joke. Telenor Pakistan, though, has done just that, buying into a micro-finance bank and introducing mobile payments for utility bills.

Bizarre twist in the UK's Digital Economy Bill debate - are the secret services coming out against three strikes? It started with a leak of the BPI's weekly internal news digest, which contained an odd reference to a survey commissioned by TalkTalk and whether it was funded by MI-5. The Cambridge Computer Lab security blog has more, including the fact that the intelligence community is having talks with the prime minister's staff about this - it seems that the spies are worried that, if three-strikes provisions come in, essentially everyone will start encrypting all their traffic, and they won't be able to spy on it. Also, they won't be able to infer that the presence of encrypted traffic is in itself suspicious.

Who would have guessed that the intelligence services and the record industry would end up on opposite sides of an Internet-freedom debate? Of course, it is possible to see who else is supplying or downloading a file on a P2P network even if encryption is used - so an evil peer attack is possible - but it's also possible to push your P2P trafffic through something like Tor, or just use Rapidshare instead.

Meanwhile, the German supreme court struck down the EU data-retention directive after a long and bitter campaign.

Which is almost a pity, what with this new stealth product at IBM. Their M2 Insight Engine seems to be a platform for processing really huge data sets, based on the open-source Apache Hadoop system, and you'd think crunching telco subscriber data would be an ideal application. But IBM's suggested use-cases including something called Computational Journalism...

While the row about the Digital Economy Bill rages, the UK is making no progress at all on replacing the copper network. Computer Weekly joins the new Final Third First campaign for universal broadband, making the excellent point that it's not just the countryside that has problems - BT's urban residential network is gradually rotting (which is very obvious to at least one Telco 2.0 crew member, whose inner-London ADSL line achieves a spectacular 700kbps downlink). CW also makes the excellent point that no-one is really responsible for the quality of wholesale broadband lines and that it's quite possible that BT management is living in a fools' paradise because their metrics don't cover actual throughput rather than modem line rates.

In tangentially related news, the UK Information Commissioner is trying to get the political parties to activate the legal provisions that could make it possible to send data thieves to prison...unfortunately, one of the parties' director of communications is a possible candidate for this punishment, so good luck with that!

And OFCOM has moved on the spectrum issue, officially approving the re-use of the GSM900 and PCS bands for 3G, and making a variety of detail changes (increasing the permissible transmitter power for underwater use so long as the transmitter is automatically suppressed when it surfaces...). It seems that a version of the Kip Meek plan will go before parliament before the general election - a tight timescale - with the auctions provisionally scheduled for the summer.

The plan foresees the release of the 800 and 2600MHz bands, with a 180MHz cap on individual holdings of spectrum and a 40MHz cap on individual holdings below 1GHz. 20MHz (in four 5MHz channels) of the 800 band will come with a universal service requirement of 99% population coverage. All the allocations are technology neutral. A key block of contiguous 2.6GHz spectrum - 50MHz worth - is allocated for TDD systems and is going to be fast-tracked, so it's "gentlemen, start your engines" for the WiMAX vendors. There's some good news for new entrants - if you can get to 70% population coverage, you have a right to a regulated national roaming agreement for the rest.

One operator that's interested in more spectrum would be Qualcomm's FLO wholesale mobile-TV network, which has signed up CNN as a new customer.

A little shot of whisky for sender-pays data: some operators (3UK is mentioned) are apparently thinking of linking priority data service with app stores, so you might (without noticing it) pay for priority access when you buy an app. 3UK is currently throttling down BitTorrent traffic from its dongle fleet on cells that are currently congested only.

Google's announcement of FTTH demonstration projects has unleashed a frenzy of interest from the broadband-starved. The latest move is that the U.S. Senator and comedian Al Franken (there are plenty of senators who are also clowns, but only Al is doing it on purpose) is going to lobby Google for fibre in two cities in his home state of Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the FCC has released an app that lets you test the quality of mobile data service.

It looks like Apple could have grabbed AdMob for $150 million less than Google eventually spent, had they moved quickly enough to close the deal during the 45-day lockup period. Apparently, Google's top motivation in buying the mobile-ad specialist was simply to stop Apple getting it.

Here's a story with an incredibly high buzzword density: a version of Google Reader optimised for the Apple iPad. It has a very clean and rather Apple-like user interface and is implemented entirely in HTML/Javascript (of course, you're not allowed to use Flash on the 'pad even if you wanted to for some perverted reason). There's a whole gallery of mockup newspaper applications on the iPad here.

There's also a fascinating piece about the thing's genesis and Fujitsu, the importance of voice control, and the possibilities of Google Android on the netbook/tablet/smartbook platform.

Perhaps the perfect representation of the zeitgeist - an iPhone app for unemployment. iPhone and Android users finding themselves out of work can now do a location-based search for jobs registered with the Jobcentre Plus system, and apply through the Jobcentre call centre.

Sprint is providing wholesale M2M service for pay-as-you-go car insurance. Basically, the idea is that you accept to be monitored whereever you go, and only pay for the miles you actually drive; it's also a possibility that your premiums might be dynamically adjusted. The only question that remains is why anyone would actually want that - Telco 2.0 was recently offered a quote by a PAYG car insurer that was literally double the best competing price, but we suppose you've got to pay for a really spectacular assault on your privacy.

Meanwhile, Californian electricity company PG&E wants to deploy smart meters; the EFF has privacy concerns, and it's off to the courthouse.

Mobile search usage data - Telemap has published statistics on what its users actually search for, and it turns out that they mainly search for pizza, Chinese takeaways, and coffee. Clearly, we're still not breaking out of the early-adopter geek market.

Has the app hype peaked? We ask only because someone's asking if they will "save the world". They probably do have a point about election monitoring. Meanwhile, Googlephone sales have been revised down yet again. And growth at Twitter appears to have run out of steam.

The management of MySpace are faced with a major challenge, as the network looks more and more like another Friends Reunited; they've changed CEO twice this year.

T-Mobile USA announced that it's joined a cloud platform that aggregates location data from multiple sources under a common API for applications developers, Veriplace, which also includes AT&T and Sprint.

There's a Nokia N900 up for grabs for the winner of a contest for the best Mozilla Fennec add-on. More here.

And the Electronic Frontier Foundation has the full text of the Apple iPhone developer license agreement - highlights include a clause that bans you from saying anything about the agreement and another one that denies liability for any damages greater than $50. As usual, the gap between Apple's image and the reality is impressive.

Interesting Voice 2.0 app - Twisted Pair lets you trunk push-to-talk systems over the Internet, so you can do your own PTT on networks that don't have it and extend your private-mobile-radio network's PTT service to all your mobile devices. They also deserve some kind of award for the company name...

We were a little nonplussed by the Orange-Barclaycard deal - was there really very much value in what was, after all, basically an Orange-branded Visa card? Here's something more like it - Barclays is promising to have an Orange-backed NFC product out this year. In other emerging finance news, Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing site for tech startups - rather than hoping to catch a VC player, you put up a project and try to get many users to contribute your funding.

Felix Salmon, however, sounds a note of warning - it's not usually good news when something that isn't a bank decides to dabble in a little banking, nor is it often good news when something that isn't an insurance company tries to write insurance, especially if they aren't covered by the same regulation that covers banks or insurers.

David Burgess is blogging his OpenBTS deployment on Niue further; there's a third post here, in which they climb the tower, set up the Asterisk box, and discover a radio environment stranger than they could possibly imagine.

It's been 25 years since the first .com domain name was registered; and ten years since World Online's botched flotation rang in the .com crash. The best mobile app ever? And the Internet has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.